The Russian embassy has hit back at Prime Minister Scott Morrison after the PM called Russia “thugs and bullies” over its conflict with Ukraine.
Mr Morrison announced sanctions against Russia on Wednesday as Australia joined the US, UK, the EU and Canada in pushing back against Russia's aggression towards Ukraine.
"They're behaving like thugs and bullies, and they should be called out as thugs and bullies," Mr Morrison said.
The PM’s criticism hasn’t sat well with the Embassy of Russia in Australia.
In a statement, the embassy said “Australia does not always stand up to the bullies”.
The embassy claims Australia has been “totally indifferent” to the “discrimination of Russian speakers in Ukraine and “the plight of civilians” living in Donbas in southeast Ukraine.
The embassy claims residents there have been “under blockade and constant shelling” from the Ukrainian military.
Donbas is one of the regions involved in conflict between Russian-backed separatists and the Ukrainian military. President Vladimir Putin earlier this week recognised Donetsk and Luhansk People’s Republics in Donbas, also known as DPR and LPR as independent.
“In alignment with its key partners, Canberra has played its part in supporting and encouraging the xenophobic bullies based in Kyiv,” the embassy said.
“The decision to recognise DPR and LPR was made on humanitarian grounds to protect civilians, including hundreds of thousands of Russian nationals, from the threat to their lives and safety posed by the current Ukrainian regime in its persistent attempts to resolve the Donbas issue by force.”
The embassy further claimed people living in the two republics faced “ethnic cleansing” by Kyiv.
Morrison doubles down on criticism of Russia
The PM responded on Thursday morning, reiterating the "thugs and bullies critique".
"The invasion of Ukraine by Russia has effectively already begun. It is unjustified, unwarranted, unprovoked and unacceptable," he said in a statement.
"Australia will always stand up to thugs and bullies. That’s why the Australian Government will immediately begin placing sanctions on Russian individuals in response to this aggression against Ukraine."
He told reporters suggestions made by the embassy Russian soldiers were acting as peacekeepers is "deeply offensive".
"They're not peacekeepers. They're invaders," Mr Morrison said.
"That's how we see it and we'll call it out. If they don't like it, that's tough. There is no justification for Russia's aggression in Ukraine and any attempt to create some pretext for it is offensive."
The PM added the Russian ambassador Aleksey Pavlovsky was called in to speak with the Secretary of Foreign Affairs Kathryn Campbell.
Ukraine declares state of emergency
Rebels in eastern Ukraine have asked Russia for military assistance to help fend off Ukrainian “aggression”.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said the rebel chiefs wrote to Mr Putin, pleading with him to intervene after Ukrainian shelling caused civilian deaths and crippled vital infrastructure.
In Ukraine, lawmakers approved President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s decree that imposes a state of emergency for 30 days starting Thursday.
The state of emergency allows authorities to impose curfews and restrictions on movement, block rallies and ban political parties and organisations “in the interests of national security and public order".
The Foreign Ministry advised against travel to Russia and recommended any Ukrainians there to leave immediately, saying Moscow’s “aggression” could lead to a significant reduction in consular services.
“For a long time we refrained from declaring a state of emergency ... but today the situation has become more complicated,“ National Security and Defence Council head Oleksiy Danilov told the parliament, emphasising that Moscow’s efforts to destabilise Ukraine represented the main threat.
A senior US defence official in Washington said the Russian forces along Ukraine’s borders are “as ready as they can be” for an invasion, with about 80 per cent in what the US considers “forward positions, ready to go” within five kilometres to 50 kilometres of the border.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive information, added: “We still cannot confirm that Russian forces have moved into the Donbas area.”
Trump calls Russian president a ‘genius’
Former US President Donald Trump has called Mr Putin a “genius”, touted the war would not have happened if he was still in the White House and claims he always knew Mr Putin wanted Ukraine.
The former US President told the conservative radio program The Clay Travis & Buck Sexton Show on Tuesday “this never would have happened with us”.
“Had I been in office – not even thinkable. This would never have happened,” he told the program.
He told the program Mr Putin’s move to declare the two Ukraine states as independent was “genius” and claimed he used to speak to the Russian President “at length” about invading the country.
“I know that he always wanted Ukraine. I used to talk to him about it. I said you can't do it, you're not gonna do it. But I could see that he wanted it,” he said.
with The Associated Press
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.